EASTER is less than two weeks away and the supermarket shelves are full of chocolate eggs – with Britain’s best-loved brand, Cadbury’s, leading the pack.
Their classic creme egg is a seasonal favourite – with 200million sold every year – and each one comes with the Cocoa Life stamp, to reassure consumers that the ingredients are ethically sourced.
But Channel 4’s Dispatches – which airs tonight – has uncovered shocking child labour abuses behind our chocolate treats and, for the first time, linked them directly to the Cadbury supply chain.
During his investigation in Ghana, West Africa, reporter Antony Barnett met children as young as 10 performing backbreaking work on cocoa farms in the blazing heat, for up to nine hours a day.
Small children wielding 3ft machetes hack through tough weeds, with no protective clothing, or crack pods with long sharp knives – and many sustain serious injuries from the hazardous work.
And Antony found desperate farmers were paid less than £2 a day for the cocoa they sold to Mondalez, the US company that now owns Cadbury.
“The farmers are paid so little they can’t afford to hire adults to work on the farm so they have to use their children,” he tells The Sun.
“So they take them out of school to work on the farm. But there were also cases where it wasn’t children belonging to the family, but they’d been brought from elsewhere to work on the farm.”
Mondalez, Cadbury’s parent company, say they “strongly refute” allegations that they profit from child labour.
Cocoa Life, which aimed to raise the standard of living for cocoa farmers and their families and stamp out child labour, was set up by Cadbury in 2012.
Their website states: “We believe the work of children is education and play. No amount of child labour in the cocoa supply chain should be acceptable.”
But a decade on, it’s estimated that 1.56 million children are involved in cocoa production in Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire, with 95 per cent of them involved in hazardous child labour, according to the latest report from the National Opinion Research Centre.
The report found that, despite pledges from chocolate companies including Cadbury, the proportion of children between the ages of five and 17 involved in cocoa labour has actually risen in Ghana – from 44 per cent to 55 per cent – since 2009.
“From what we saw, child labour was everywhere,” says Antony. “We didn’t have to go looking for children working on farms – we visited four farms in 12 days, during the harvest, and found evidence of child labour on every one.
“The farms are very remote and hard to get to, so we were limited in our scope but had we visited more farms, I believe we would have seen more. It seemed to be endemic in my view.”
Machete cuts and neck injuries
Under Ghanaian law it’s illegal for children under 13 to work and nobody under 18 should be involved in hazardous work.
But at the first farm Antony visited, he found brothers of 10 and 11 knocking cocoa pods from trees with long poles.
Later he watched the boys hacking their way through dense weeds with lethal machetes, sweat pouring from their bodies in the hot sun.
The youngest revealed his father keeps him off school to harvest the cocoa, and showed Antony a scar on his leg from being sliced with the machete.
He also struggled to lift the huge baskets full of pods that the kids were expected to carry for miles across the farmland, with his father admitting they often suffer neck pain from heavy loads.
On another farm a boy of 12 had been sent across the country to work, living with the farmer’s family, because his father couldn’t afford to send him to school.
He worked long hours cracking pods open with a sharp steel knife, over 1ft long, and was paid the equivalent of £35 for several months which was sent directly to his parents.
A girl of around 14 also revealed she had been trafficked from the north of the country by her aunt five years ago, and told she would be looking after younger children and learning to be a seamstress.
Instead, she was made to toil all day in the hot sun, doing hard labour, and denied the chance to go to school.
“My uncle says he struggles to feed his own children, so if I join them he will not be able to buy the school books,” she says.
Initially too nervous to speak to Antony she eventually admitted she misses the family she hasn’t seen for five years and hates her life on the farm.
“I suffer a lot when I’m farming,” she says, but adds that she hasn’t told her uncle she wants to stop because “I am afraid”.
Antony says he was shocked to find such young children put in obvious danger.
“I expected to see them plucking pods or spraying pesticides so what I found the most shocking was how involved they were in this really hazardous work,” he says.
“It was the use of the machete and these sharp knives that was really concerning.
“They are so young and these machetes are over half their height, at 3ft, and you see both boys and girls are hacking through undergrowth with them.
“It’s back-breaking work and many of them had been injured, including one girl who badly slashed her foot but couldn’t go to hospital because there was no money.”
It’s back-breaking work and many of them had been injured, including one girl who badly slashed her foot but couldn’t go to hospital because there was no money
The girl’s little sister, aged 10, revealed she was bitten by a rattlesnake while clearing weeds on the farm without shoes.
“My foot swelled up and I couldn’t walk,” she says. Her father, who had been a Cocoa Life farmer for several years, had to take out a loan for the hospital treatment.
He says he struggles to feed his family and earns just 4020 cedis, or £500, a year.
The older daughter, aged 17, says she hasn’t been to school for five years and adds: “I’d like to become a midwife or nurse, but it’s very difficult because at times my parents have to borrow money from the bank just to get us food, so when I want to go to school the money is already spent.”
Farmers earning £500 a year
The fixed minimum price for the cocoa is just 660 Ghanaian cedis – around £80 – a bag and Mondalez pays an extra ‘premium’ to Cocoa Life farmers of 10 cedis, which is around £1.
One bag contains enough cocoa to make 4,000 bars of Dairy Milk and the average farmer produces eight a year.
“Us farmers are struggling,” one producer tells Antony.
“The cost of clearing the land, buying pesticides and chemicals for the farm is more than the government pays us for each bag of cocoa. And 10 cedis doesn’t stretch far.”
He adds that hiring adult labourers to bring in the harvest cost him a third of the money he gets for the crop.
For every £1 we spend on chocolate in the UK, 29p goes to the retailer, 38p in manufacturing and distribution, 12p in taxes and 10p in manufacturer’s profits. That leaves just 11p for farmers to cover cultivation costs and local taxes.
Last year, Mondalez made a profit of £3million and chairman Dirk Van de Put earned a staggering £14million.
Van de Put refused to speak to Antony for the programme but Mondalez – who own Cadbury’s – issued a statement saying: “We are deeply concerned by the incidents documented in Dispatches.
“We explicitly prohibit child labour in our operations and have been making significant efforts through our Cocoa Life programme to improve the protection of children in the communities where we source cocoa We strongly refute any allegation that Mondelez benefits from child labour, which we have relentlessly taken a stand against.
“The welfare of the children and families featured is our primary concern and we commit to investigating further.
“As part of our Cocoa Life programme, we have Child Labour Monitoring and Remediation Systems in place which means community members and NGO partners are trained to provide assistance to vulnerable children, and help to address any cases of child labour.”
But campaigner Ayn Riggs, founder of Slave Free Chocolate described the evidence obtained by Dispatches as “horrifying”.
She said: “The part which really enrages me is that these chocolate companies promised to clean this up over 20 years ago. They admitted that they knew they were profiting from child labour, and they have shirked their promises not just to these children, but to everybody in the world.”
Riggs added: “If they really wanted to stamp out child labour, there’s an easy first step that they haven’t done yet, which is paying the farmers a lot more for their beans. The money is there. But on the farms, these farmers can’t afford to replace their children with an adult labourer.”
Cocoa Life – slogan Cocoa Made Right – claims to have invested £300million over the last ten years to “empower at least 200,000 cocoa farmers and reach one million community members.”
But Antony – who is now boycotting Cadbury products – says the investment had made little impact on the impoverished farmers.
“On the website and in their promotional literature, Cadbury claims to be making a difference,” he says.
“But I can only judge by the people that we spoke to, not just the children, but all the cocoa farmers.
“They were critical of the amount of investment that Cocoa Life was making and were critical of the money they were getting for their cocoa beans. Nobody has a good word to say about Cocoa Life.”
Cadbury Exposed: Dispatches airs on Channel 4 at 8pm tonight